Following The Warden, we return in a longer book to the fictional world of Barchester, and the intrigues festering within the ecclesiastical community. The new Bishop, Mr Proudie and his fearsome wife, have moved into the city, with their chaplain, the oily Mr Slope. The wardenship of the hospital is to be given, but there is much debate as to whether it should be given to its previous occupant, the delightful Mr Harding, or to the deserving, if weak, Mr Quiverful, an impecunious gentleman with fifteen children and a determined wife. The main subplot is Mr Slope's inept wooing of the widow, Mrs Bold (Mr Harding's virtuous and sensible daughter), and the feeling of her friends that she should have nothing to do with him.
What marks Trollope as a great original is the way he takes the reader into his confidence - he has no time for the writer who is mysterious as to the outcome: we have no doubt as to the happy outcome for Mrs Bold, but the interest is in how the denouement is reached. And in seeing how many men can make fools of themselves with the Countess Neroni. This superb novel has a variety of well-drawn supporting characters, and the reader will find himself living their dramas with them. The other author who comes most to mind is Austen, but Trollope has a wider cast of characters. The strong women characters are drawn from Trollope's own family: his mother, Frances, herself a noted novelist, was a strong-willed woman who kept their family together in the face of her husband's impecunious habits. This is rightly regarded as one of Trollope's many masterpieces, and is a firm favourite with Trollopians. After reading it, I can easily see why.